Apple TV’s science-fiction thriller series “Severance” is a crafty, neat piece of work that satisfies and intrigues at every step of its nine-episode-long duration. It follows four workers in the Macrodata Refinement (MDR) department of a mysterious corporation named Lumon Industries. Then, the element of science-fiction kicks in—this corporation has invented a process to separate an employee’s work-life from their personal life. It is the intense psychological drama playing out over this canvas of real-world impossibility, though, that makes the show an absolute must-watch.
‘Severance’ Season 1: Plot Summary – What Is The Series About?
Mark Scout is a diligent worker at the MDR department of Lumon Industries, where it is his job to sit at his desk and shuffle numbers into folders or packages on a computer screen. On one particular morning, Mark finds his best friend at the office, Petey, unusually absent, and is then informed by his boss, Harmony Cobel, of Petey’s sudden resignation and Mark’s resulting promotion to the position of department chief. His first job in the post is to accompany Irving Bailiff, the longest-serving worker in MDR, to interview and welcome a new recruit, Helly.
However, this new worker is terrified of her situation—she cannot remember her name, her parents, or anything about her own past at all. She is extremely interested in leaving the job within the first few minutes of her initiation, but finds out that she simply cannot walk out the doorway as it keeps looping her back inside the halls of the office. It is now revealed that Lumon Industries runs a program called “severance” for their workers, in which the personal lives and work lives of a worker are separated from each other with the help of a chip inserted into their brain.
This chip splits up the worker’s conscience into two halves, one for inside the office space and one for outside, and the two have no memories or recollections of each other. So, when Mark comes into the office every morning and takes the elevator down to his department, his work conscience, referred to as Mark S. as per company protocol, wakes up and carries on while having no memory or idea about who Mark is in the outside world. Similarly, when he takes the elevator up at the end of the day, he keeps no memory or recollection of his time at work.
As part of Helly’s initiation program, she and her colleagues are shown a video of her outside self (informally called “outies”), who agrees to all company protocols and regulations of her free will. After work, Mark goes back to his old self and drives back home to a quiet and almost solitary life. He is still grieving the death of his beloved wife, Gemma, and his decision to get severed and take up the job at Lumon was to stay away from thoughts about her for some hours a day. His pregnant sister, Devon, picks him up from home for a party at her place, and that night, while at her house, Mark sees a suited man staring at him from outside the house.
The next day, this man appears again, this time approaching Mark and talking to him. He introduces himself as Petey, Mark’s best friend from work who had recently left the job, but Mark obviously has no memory of him. The latter only hears with shock and disbelief as Petey claims to have been “reintegrated,” meaning that his work and personal selves have been joined back together again, and warns his friend of something terribly sinister going on at Lumon Industries.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Is So Strange With Lumon’s Severance Program?
The very first instinct of any Lumon employee severed from the job is understandably to find a way of escape from it, as the work-selves (innies) do not know of any existence other than the drab work life. The office building is creepy as well, as all the hallways are eerily empty and white, with a very minimalist design, with no windows or vents at all.
The MDR department is essentially a big hall-room with four cubicles in the middle, with retractable partitions separating the four desks, computers, and chairs. None of the departments are allowed, or at least encouraged, to interact with any other department; the workers are not even sure about the exact number of departments in the office.
The metaphorical nail in the coffin of such a creepy setup is the workers’ inability to have any memory of the outside world as part of the severance policy. They walk into the elevator at the end of the day, lose consciousness, and then wake up when their body is back in the elevator the next time. The inability to not remember does not seem as big of a deal for the outies as it is for the innies, as the outside self hardly considers it important to know their work self, at least initially, but the working self knows absolutely nothing about one’s own identity, and remains curious to know themselves better.
Helly is no different from the usual workers when it comes to trying to escape; rather she is even more determined. Her first few days at Lumon are spent only trying to convince her outside self to resign from the job. At first, she tries smuggling written notes, first on paper and then on her own skin, through the elevator, to communicate with her outside self, but the elevators are fitted with technology to identify notes in any form being carried and to immediately stop working. She is taken on a tour of the office’s “Perpetuity” wing and made part of office rumors to help her fit in, but Helly tries to run out on this occasion as well. She now learns of the “break room,” the office’s room for punitive measures, where workers are made to repeat lines of apology an insane number of times.
The new recruit goes through all this and more when she finally manages to force the administration to let her apply for resignation. But this application is quickly rejected by her outside self (through a video message), who denies even considering her a real person. Helly internally breaks down from this knowledge and attempts suicide by hanging herself from the elevator shaft. She is only saved at the last minute and, from then on, has no choice but to stick to her job.
Perhaps being the longest-serving member of the MDR, Irving likes to follow every rule completely and also looks up to the founder of the company, Kier Eagan, and his successors, who still run the corporation. But the strange thing about Irving is that he sometimes zones out while sitting at his desk, where he sees or imagines a black oil-like liquid gushing out from the ceiling and from inside his colleagues. After one such experience, he is sent to a wellness session, which is conducted by a certain Ms. Casey, who plays sounds of nature and gives the workers little information about their true selves outside. It is here that Irving first meets Burt G, the head of the Optics and Design department.
Irving and the older man share interests in art and culture, and gradually develop a friendly and potentially romantic relationship. The strangeness of Lumon’s work is further presented through their incentives for good work and completing a term’s work quota—they are provided meager and insignificant wares such as erasers (but they don’t use pencils), finger traps (paper cutouts to wear on one’s fingers), caricature portraits, and a waffle party at the end of the term.
The fourth data-cruncher, Dylan G, holds the most interest in these incentives. But Dylan also has an interest in non-permitted matters; he gets hold of the self-help book left behind inside the office by the supervisor, Milchick, and reads it, as any literature other than regulation books is not permitted for the workers.
Is Reintegration Actually Possible?
After Mark’s outside self makes acquaintance and hears about Lumon from Petey, he decides to believe the man and allows him to stay in his own basement. Petey seems to suffer from some psychological ailment, as he often mixes up parts of his two once-severed memories and calls it “reintegration sickness.” What neither of them are aware of, though, is the fact that not all employees at Lumon are severed, as higher officials like Milchick and Harmony Cobel have their two memories intact and whole.
Harmony Cobel lives right next door to Mark’s house, as his friendly elderly widowed neighbor, Mrs. Selvig, without him realizing that the two women are the same. Selvig regularly keeps an eye out on Mark’s actions and his house, and is spotted by Petey on one such occasion. Petey instantly recognizes her from Lumon, and he flees the house without her noticing him. He soon dies out of the sickness he was suffering from and also from a demented fright of being found out. Later, Mark finds Petey’s cell phone at his house, which keeps ringing with a call from a blocked unknown number.
Although ignoring it at first, Mark ultimately receives the call and goes to meet a stranger, a woman at a university compound he once used to teach at. This woman introduces herself as Reghabi, the scientist who used to make the severance chips for Lumon, but has now become a rogue, trying to reintegrate all workers who had been severed. It was she who had brought Petey’s memory back and advised him to live carefully, which he did not.
Meanwhile, the administration at Lumon had been in search of Petey and managed to procure his severance chip after his death. Running scans on the chip, they had traced the reintegration program to Reghabi and decided to track her down. On the same night that Mark is meeting the scientist, Lumon’s head of security, Doug Graner, reaches her by following Mark. However, he is killed by Reghabi before he even realizes her presence, and the woman gives Mark Doug’s security card, which will give him access to most rooms in the Lumon office.
Sometime later, Dylan’s work self shockingly finds himself woken up outside of work hours by Milchick to ask him about the location of a card he had earlier stolen from the OD department. Dylan realizes that he is inside his body at home, his work-self presiding over his personal conscience, and is surprised to find out that he has a young boy. Milchick explains to him that it is part of a special protocol called “overtime contingency,” which allows the worker-selves to be woken up outside of the office space. Dylan’s experience, particularly with the happiness around his son, drives him to turn away from being subservient to Lumon the next day at work, and he even attacks Milchick, unable to control his frustration. He tells his co-workers of this, and Helly readily agrees to make use of this protocol.
Shortly after, Irving realizes that his beloved Burt is being released from work, meaning he (his work-self) won’t ever be able to see him again, and finally decides to help his co-workers. With the dead Graner’s security card with Mark (his outside-self had carried it in, and the work-self found it in his pocket), the four members of MDR hatch a plan of temporary escape with the help of overtime contingency, in which Dylan will stay back and operate the protocol while the rest three will go back to their outside-selves and learn things about themselves and potentially dissuade themselves from returning to work.
‘Severance’ Season 1: Ending Explained: Who Are The Real Selves?
Everything goes according to plan, and the last episode shows the characters from MDR as their real-life selves. Irving wakes up to see himself as a lonely man living alone with his dog, and he continually paints images of a pitch-dark corridor with an elevator at its end. He finds out about his background in the US Navy, and then finds documents and maps of Burt’s real-life residence. Mark’s work-self awakes in the middle of a party at his sister’s house, where he sees Mrs. Selvig (she had also made close acquaintances with Devon) and identifies her as Cobel. In a slip of the tongue, he even lets this out, and Cobel immediately realizes that Mark has overruled the severance somehow.
The most shocking revelation is that of Helly, for she realizes that she is actually Helena Eagan, the daughter of Lumon’s current CEO, Jame Eagan. She had undergone the severance operation as part of a publicity stunt, and now had awakened in the middle of a Lumon gala party where she was about to speak in favor of severance.
Earlier, Harmony Cobel had been fired by the Lumon board for having hidden Helly’s suicide attempt from her superiors, and her faith in Kier Eagan also seemed to have ended (she tears apart a shrine in her house of the Lumon founder), but her instincts kick back in after she realizes Mark’s condition. She hurriedly drives to the gala and calls up Milchick, informing him about everything.
The supervisor rushes to the security room to find Dylan inside. Back in Devon’s house, Mark tells his sister about everything and then, through photographs, realizes that his dead wife Gemma is actually Ms. Casey, the wellness counselor in his office. Just as Irving tracks down Burt’s house (who has a partner in real life) and bangs on his front door, Helly gets up on the stage and opens up about the truth of severed work-selves; Milchick manages to enter the security room and stop the overtime contingency.
What All To Expect From ‘Severance’ Season 2?
Severance’s first season ends terrifically, creating a build-up and numerous cliffhangers for the next season. What would happen to each of the characters is something to definitely look forward to, especially those of Helly and Mark. Helly’s real identity was something that the makers kept concealed to reveal at the right moment, and it would be interesting to see where she goes from here, especially after her father, Jame Eagan, finally makes an appearance.
Mark realizes that Gemma might actually be alive, secretly kept somewhere inside Lumon. The story arc of the rogue scientist Reghabi is left completely unexplored, possibly for further seasons, as is the true sinister nature of what the actual work of Lumon employees is. The first season of “Severance” gets almost everything right, and any further seasons of the show are definitely to be looked out for.
“Severance” is a 2022 Science Fiction Drama series created by Dan Erickson.